links for 2010-03-04

Continue Readinglinks for 2010-03-04

Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story

Cribbed from Kurt Vonnegut’s Wikipedia entry:

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O’Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.

Also via kottke.org, How to Write With Style by Kurt Vonnegut.

Continue ReadingVonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story

Books I Read in 2008

It’s my 12th Annual end of the year reading recap. Grand total: 30 books. I don’t think that’s my lowest total, but it’s no 98 titles like in 1997. And boy, oh boy did I hit the genre fiction this year. It did help to have lots of fun light reading while all the wedding planning and such was going on — too much to think about during all that to be reading weighty tomes.

Maybe I’ll finally get that “year of reading Proust” started in 2009. Ha! Who am I kidding? I started Swann’s Way more than once and kept falling asleep. I should go back to it just to cure my insomnia. I have lots of other good books on my shelves, so I need to range further afield in the coming year, though.

  1. The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden
  2. The Geographer’s Library by Jon Fasman
  3. Locked Rooms (Mary Russell Novels) by Laurie R. King
  4. The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King
  5. Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson
  6. The Best of MAKE (Make) by Mark Frauenfelder and Gareth Branwyn
  7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Volume 1: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon, Andy Owens, Georges Jeanty, and Jo Chen
  8. Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
  9. The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
  10. Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy (Jane Austen Mysteries, book 8) by Stephanie Barron
  11. Justice Hall (Mary Russell Novels) by Laurie R. King
  12. The Game (Mary Russell Novels) by Laurie R. King
  13. The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
  14. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
  15. The Archivist: A Novel by Martha Cooley
  16. The Egyptologist: A Novel by Arthur Phillips
  17. Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck
  18. Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon
  19. The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte
  20. Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis
  21. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
  22. The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby
  23. Night Work (Kate Martinelli Mysteries) by Laurie R. King
  24. A Grave Talent (Kate Martinelli Mysteries) by Laurie R. King
  25. To Play The Fool (Kate Martinelli Mysteries) by Laurie R. King
  26. With Child (Kate Martinelli Mysteries) by Laurie R. King
  27. The Spice Box by Lou Jane Temple
  28. Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue
  29. Snobs by Julian Fellowes
  30. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Continue ReadingBooks I Read in 2008

Books I’ve Read – November and December 2008

A Grave Talent (Kate Martinelli Mysteries)
by Laurie R. King
To Play The Fool (Kate Martinelli Mysteries)
by Laurie R. King
With Child (Kate Martinelli Mysteries)
by Laurie R. King
Earlier this year, I read the fourth and fifth books in the Kate Martinelli Series. This time I circled back around and read the first three to get caught up. These aren’t terrible, but I don’t enjoy them as much as I liked King’s other series – The Mary Russell mysteries, set in Sherlock Holmes’ era. The Martinelli mysteries seem much darker and grimmer. But still interesting reading; I obviously read them all the way through and picked up others. 🙂
I actually also started but couldn’t finish another Laurie R. King novel — A Darker Place. Set in a cult – it started out too creepy for me so I couldn’t finish. Maybe I’ll pick it back up in the summertime.
The Spice Box
by Lou Jane Temple
A nicely-written mystery. I’ll look forward to reading more from this series. — “The first of a new food-themed historical series, Temple’s charming tale of New York City in the Civil War era introduces Bridget Heaney, a clever, streetwise Irish immigrant. The day Bridget starts as an assistant cook in the Manhattan household of wealthy merchant Isaac Gold, she makes a terrible discovery: the body of the family’s youngest son, Seth, who’d been missing, crammed inside a dough box.”
Slammerkin
by Emma Donoghue
“Donoghue takes scraps of the intriguing true story of Mary Saunders, a servant girl who murdered her mistress in 1763, and fashions from them an intelligent and mesmerizing historical novel.” — I just thought it was grim and upsetting. I read it on recommendation from several people who loved it. I did not feel the same.
Snobs
by Julian Fellowes
Fellowes also wrote the script for Gosford Park. Snobs is an entertaining comedic look at the snobbery of British upper class, set in the 1990s.
Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett
Invoking the first and second rules of book club.

Continue ReadingBooks I’ve Read – November and December 2008

links for 2008-04-03

Continue Readinglinks for 2008-04-03

EW’s Best Love Songs Ever: The Top 25!

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Entertainment Weekly’s List:

  1. Just Like Heaven” – The Cure (1987)
  2. As” – Stevie Wonder (1976)
  3. Purple Rain” – Prince (1984)
  4. Your Song” – Elton John (1970)
  5. “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper (1984)
  6. “If Not for You” – Bob Dylan (1970)
  7. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell (1967)
  8. “Crazy in Love” – BeyoncĂ© (2003)
  9. “Unchained Melody” – The Righteous Brothers (1965)
  10. These Arms of Mine” – Otis Redding (1962)
  11. You Send Me” – Sam Cooke (1957)
  12. At Last” – Etta James (1961)
  13. When a Man Loves a Woman” – Percy Sledge (1966)
  14. Ring of Fire” – Johnny Cash (1963)
  15. Maybe I’m Amazed” – Paul McCartney (1970)
  16. In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel (1986)
  17. “All I Want Is You” – U2 (1988)
  18. Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses (1988)
  19. Wild Horses” – The Rolling Stones (1971)
  20. I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston (1992)
  21. Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green (1971)
  22. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” – Aretha Franklin (1967)
  23. Something” – The Beatles (1969)
  24. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Elvis Presley (1961)
  25. God Only Knows” – The Beach Boys (1966)
Continue ReadingEW’s Best Love Songs Ever: The Top 25!

Movies I’ve Seen: 2007

I’ve never kept track of movies I’ve seen in the past, but this year we saw so few in the theater, and most of our viewing was via Netflix, so I was able to figure most of it out. I think. If you know of some we saw with you in the theater that aren’t on here, let me know. Also, these are not in any particular order other than just as they came to mind, so if they don’t match release dates or whatever, that’s why. Of the 25 movies I can recall seeing, just 6 were in the theater.

I’m going to keep better track of our movie viewing in the future. I enjoy seeing movies in the theater, but Stephanie can take it or leave it. (And at times, she has trouble staying awake.) And since we have a fully stocked Netflix queue all the time, we tend to stay home more than go out. There are quite a few movies I wish I’d seen in the theater this year – The Bourne Ultimatum, Once, and Ocean’s 13 were a few of them, along with Michael Clayton, Juno, Ratatouille, and Into the Wild.

1. The Simpsons Movie (in the theater)
Cute, but I expected more.

2. Volver (in the theater)
Wow. Penelope Cruz is awesome.

3. Sideways (via Netflix)
Sadly, I know someone just like this guy.

4. Swing Kids (via Netflix)
Not nearly as much swing dancing as I remembered, but what little there is in the movie is awesome.

5. The Prestige (via Netflix)
A great mystery, and I didn’t have it figured out.

6. Cars (via Netflix)
We finally rented this after being teased by the entire Route 66 caravan about not having seen it.

7. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (via Netflix)
Eh. Not as good as I’d hoped.

8. The Nightmare Before Christmas (via Netflix)
I saw it when it came out, but Stephanie had never seen it.

9. The Departed (via Netflix)
Wow. Disturbing and compelling.

10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (via Netflix)
Really holds up after all these years.

11. Clerks II (via Netflix)
I loved it, though it was panned. I enjoy Kevin Smith’s movies and can overlook the dumb parts, though.

12. The Muppet Movie – Kermit’s 50th Anniversary Edition (via Netflix)
I’d forgotten how many familiar faces are in this movie. It was pretty packed with celebrity cameos.

13. V for Vendetta (I own the DVD)
I like Alan Moore, and I thought this movie did the graphic novel pretty good justice, although he didn’t believe so. I especially love that there’s a local right wing blog that has adopted the V persona, given that V was a radical lefty. But, ya know, some people have comprehension problems in books and movies both.

14. Idiocracy (via Netflix)
I enjoyed it, and am still trying to figure out why it wasn’t more popular.

15. EXPO – Magic of the White City (via Netflix)
Documentary on the Chicago worlds fair – I wanted to see pictures after having read Devil in the White City. It was pretty slow, but I got what I wanted out of it.

16. Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl (via Netflix)
Fun.

17. Frankie & Annette – Ski Party (via Netflix)
Rented entirely for the short Leslie Gore scene, where she sings “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” and entirely worth it for that, although the rest of the movie sucked.

18. Good Night, and Good Luck (I own the DVD)
Of course I liked it.

19. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (in the theater)
I loved the 3-D at the end, but it gave Stephanie a headache.

20. Blades of Glory (in the theater)
It was a skating movie, so of course we saw it in the theater. Still trying to figure out if this was funny or homophobic. I’m leaning towards the latter.

21. High School Musical (on DVD)
We had to see this at Dan and Doug’s so we’d be prepared for the second one, which was just coming out.

22. High School Musical 2 (on TV)
For a sequel, it didn’t suck much more than the first.

23. Freaky Friday (via DVR)
Lohan before the wheels came off her wagon. Very cute. I thought Jamie Lee Curtis was more over the top, though.

24. Sky High (via DVR)
It has Linda Carter in it. Enough said.

25. Enchanted (in the theater)
It was cute, but the first part was a little too twee for me, and I thought Amy Adams before she wises up was too cloying.

26. Alvin and the Chipmunks (in the theater)
Whatever – I love cute chipmunks, and these are extra cuteness. We were originally going to see The Golden Compass, but one of our Christian friends freaked out at something she read on the Family Research Council website, so that selection was scotched. Believe me, the fact that I know some that reads the Family Research council website gives me pause, too.

Continue ReadingMovies I’ve Seen: 2007

Heir to the Glimmering World

Heir to the Glimmering World
Heir to the Glimmering World
I also can’t find enough time to write a synopsis of Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick – a book I picked up in Chicago last July and just finished reading, so again I’m going to cheat and give you the synopsis/review From Publishers Weekly instead:

Ozick’s previous novel, The Puttermesser Papers, revolved around one quirky hero; this time around, Ozick incubates several. Characters, not plot, drive this Depression-era tale, and Ozick eviscerates each one through her narrator, Rose Meadows, a resolute 18-year-old orphan. Virtually abandoned, Rose wanders into a job with the Mitwisser family, German refugees in New York City. Filling gaping holes in their household, she becomes a research assistant to the father, a professor stubbornly engaged in German and Hebrew arcana; a nurse to his oft-deranged, sequestered wife; and nanny to their five children. As she penetrates the fog surrounding their history, Rose limns their roiling inner lives with exasperated perception. Mrs. Mitwisser especially chafes against the family’s precarious, degrading status as “parasites,” erratically supported by the unbalanced millionaire son and heir of an author of popular children’s books who is fascinated by Mr. Mitwisser’s research. With her trademark lyrical prose, gentle humor and vivid imagery, Ozick paints a textured portrait of outsiders rendered powerless, retreating into tightly coiled existences of scholarly rapture, guarded brazenness and even calculated lunacy—all as a means of refuting the bleakness of a harsh, chaotic world. Erudite exposition is packed into the book, so that character study and discourse occasionally grind the plot to a halt. Edifying and evocative, if often daunting, this is a concentrated slice of eccentric life.

The assessment of “grinding the plot to a halt” is dead on – I found this book to be a tough slog. I also had trouble sympathizing with any of the characters; each of them was either mean or sad, and I couldn’t get over my frustration with them.

Continue ReadingHeir to the Glimmering World

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write a synopsis of The Thirteenth Tale – (I’ve been meaning to since I finished this fun, enjoyable book three weeks ago!) so I’ll have to cheat and give you Amazon’s instead:

Settle down to enjoy a rousing good ghost story with Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Setterfield has rejuvenated the genre with this closely plotted, clever foray into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths. She never cheats by pulling a rabbit out of a hat; this atmospheric story hangs together perfectly.

There are two heroines here: Vida Winter, a famous author, whose life story is coming to an end, and Margaret Lea, a young, unworldly, bookish girl who is a bookseller in her father’s shop. Vida has been confounding her biographers and fans for years by giving everybody a different version of her life, each time swearing it’s the truth. Because of a biography that Margaret has written about brothers, Vida chooses Margaret to tell her story, all of it, for the first time. At their initial meeting, the conversation begins:

“You have given nineteen different versions of your life story to journalists in the last two years alone.”

She [Vida] shrugged. “It’s my profession. I’m a storyteller.”

“I am a biographer, I work with facts.”

The game is afoot and Margaret must spend some time sorting out whether or not Vida is actually ready to tell the whole truth. There is more here of Margaret discovering than of Vida cooperating wholeheartedly, but that is part of Vida’s plan.

I give the book a thumbs up; it was a quite good homage to victorian gothic tales or those of the BrontĂ« sisters. The book has a promotional website that’s also quite fun to peruse as well.

Continue ReadingThe Thirteenth Tale